A high-resolution spatial assessment of the impacts of drought variability on vegetation activity in Spain from 1981 to 2015
Drought is a major driver of vegetation activity in Spain, with significant impacts on crop yield, forest growth, and the occurrence of forest fires. Nonetheless, the sensitivity of vegetation to drought conditions differs largely amongst vegetation types and climates. We used a high-resolution (1.1 km) spatial dataset of the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) for the whole of Spain spanning the period from 1981 to 2015, combined with a dataset of the standardized precipitation evapotranspiration index (SPEI) to assess the sensitivity of vegetation types to drought across Spain. Specifically, this study explores the drought timescales at which vegetation activity shows its highest response to drought severity at different moments of the year. Results demonstrate that – over large areas of Spain – vegetation activity is controlled largely by the interannual variability of drought. More than 90 % of the land areas exhibited statistically significant positive correlations between the NDVI and the SPEI during dry summers (JJA). Nevertheless, there are some considerable spatio-temporal variations, which can be linked to differences in land cover and aridity conditions. In comparison to other climatic regions across Spain, results indicate that vegetation types located in arid regions showed the strongest response to drought. Importantly, this study stresses that the timescale at which drought is assessed is a dominant factor in understanding the different responses of vegetation activity to drought.